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Three matchups to watch in 49ers vs. Cardinals

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When San Francisco heads down to the desert to take on the Cardinals, here are the matchups to watch.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Kyle Shanahan and his team will head down to the desert, looking to improve to 8-0 on the season and take care of business. They’ll be facing off against an Arizona Cardinals’ team that has redeemed itself after a slow start to the season. Rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray have steered the ship into a 3-4-1 record before they play the 49ers.

As the 49ers prepare to take on the Cardinals on a short week, here are the three matchups that will help determine the outcome of this game.

1. 49ers’ defensive line vs. Cardinals’ offensive line

San Francisco’s defensive line has been their best unit all season long, and they face another weak opponent in the Cardinals. Per Pro Football Focus, the matchup between the 49ers’ defensive line and Arizona’s offensive line should be heavily favoring the road team on Thursday.

On Halloween night, the only thing the Cardinals’ offense should be scared of is the front four of the 49ers. Rookie of the Year candidate Nick Bosa, along with linemen DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Dee Ford have been dominant this season, and I don’t see how that stops on Thursday.

Murray also has a height disadvantage against the 49ers’ linemen. The Cardinals’ quarterback sits at 5-foot-10, while the 49ers’ interior linemen are both at least 6-foot-7. With a nine-inch disadvantage, Murray is going to have a tough time looking over the linemen, while avoiding the rush from the outside.

2. 49ers’ offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan vs. Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Vance Joseph

One of the brightest minds in the NFL, Kyle Shanahan, goes up against the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Vance Joseph on Thursday. Joseph’s stock has fallen sharply over the last few years, thanks to underwhelming defenses, and the Cardinals follow the same pattern.

Joseph’s unit is ranked in the bottom-10 of the NFL for total yards, passing yards, rushing yards and points per game. His group will face Shanahan’s offense that undressed a Top-10 Panthers’ defense for 51 points just four days ago.

If Arizona hopes to keep this game close, Joseph will need to coach his unit to hold the 49ers’ offense to less than 21 points — otherwise, this could be a blowout.

3. 49ers’ tackles Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill vs. Cardinals’ pass rushers

One of the better units for the Cardinals is their pass rush, featuring linebackers Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs. They will be going up against backup offensive tackles Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill — who have out-performed expectations in the early part of the season.

Once tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey went down with an injury, there was some serious concern that the offensive line would be unable to protect quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but they have been the 6th-ranked offensive line, per PFF.

If the Cardinals’ defense is going to have any kind of success, it will need to start with Jones and Suggs wreaking havoc against Brunskill and Skule.